DeKALB – The massive crowd gathered at the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center on Saturday afternoon helped Lisa Freeman make a point.
“No one walks across this stage alone,” Freeman, the school’s president, said during one of four undergraduate commencement ceremonies that NIU held this weekend.
In the crowded gymnasium, it was clear that the graduates in black caps and gowns had enough support from friends and family members to pack the center’s stadium seating. The cheers, whoops, applause (and an air horn blast) made it clear that these students were far from alone as they received their diplomas.
During her remarks at each of the ceremonies, Freeman highlighted a few outstanding students. For example, on Saturday afternoon, she singled out Eduardo Rodriguez— the son of immigrants who was motivated to attend college after his family’s house burned down when he was 16, and paid his way with service in the Army National Guard.
Although most graduates didn’t receive this kind of spotlight, they were still grateful to be at the end of a long journey through higher education, and eager to see how life would change with their college years behind them.
For Madison Basinger, who started at NIU as a sophomore in 2017, Saturday was the culmination of 7 years’ work.
“I was both nervous and excited. I graduated high school in 2012. It’s been a long time coming,” Basinger, an art major with a concentration on interior decoration, said. “So I feel like I’m extra excited because it took me so much longer. But, things happen. I took a couple years off. Just being done forever is really exciting because of that.”
For Basinger, who hails from Naperville, the move to DeKalb meant growing accustomed to life in a smaller town – about a third of the population of her hometown.
Eventually, she got used to it.
“I wouldn’t change it,” she said of her time at the school.
When she moves to Schaumburg to start a new job in October, she’ll split the difference between DeKalb and Naperville.
Kyle Fulin also saw Saturday’s commencement as the end of a long journey. The 27-year-old graduate commuted to NIU from Elgin and worked long hours on top of it.
“I work pretty much full-time, 35 to 39 hours a week. So, trying to keep that balance was probably the hardest part,” said Fulin, who will be doing warehouse work for a trucking company after graduation.
“What I really liked was, I thought the faculty was great,” Fulin said. “The students were great, they were all really nice and willing to help me out.”
Alex Morales, an electrical engineering major from Chicago, also spent some time getting used to life in a smaller town when he moved to DeKalb. But, during his years at NIU, he said he enjoyed everyday life in his community.
“There were moments when we would just hang out together,” he remembered. “It was a random Tuesday and we all just studying together.”
Many students will carry that sense of community with them as they begin their careers. As the students exited the Convocation Center on Saturday afternoon in a mass of black caps and gowns, no one walked out alone.